Is My Autism a Disability?
Unsurprisingly, it depends on how you look at it.
My first answer would be ‘no’. While it is true that my autism has caused me a lot of problems in the past (or more accurately, people’s reaction to my autism has caused me a lot of problems), I am of the opinion that the good far outweighs the bad.
It’s true that I have spent many years in poverty, loneliness and unemployment. I have ongoing issues with low self-esteem. I know that most people don’t like me no matter what I do. Until very recently, I have never owned a car, despite passing my driving test 25 years ago, because I had convinced myself that I couldn’t drive. I’ve never really felt like a ‘real’ person, like I didn’t deserve to be a part of this world. I’ve drifted along feeling different and rejected, misunderstood and unwanted.
Although I was academically gifted and planned to become a research scientist, this dream never came to fruition because of my lack of social skills. I didn’t realize that you were supposed to tell lies on job application forms and I couldn’t hide my unease at the intrusive personal questions in the few job interviews that I did get. I didn’t realize that you had to ‘network’ in order to get ahead because nobody told me.
I gave up trying and ended up doing a series of low paid temporary jobs punctuated by long periods of unemployment. I lived in sub-standard accommodation, ate poor food and shivered in the winter.
Eventually, I found ways to earn a living that didn’t involve succeeding at job interviews. I met my partner and we started renovating houses. I started my own business selling jewellery making supplies online. I also work part time as a waitress (I got the job because a friend recommended me, so no job interview there!). I don’t live a 9-5 life, with a guaranteed income, but that’s how I like it.
Even if you only take my inability to pass job interviews into account, you could argue that my autism has had a massive and negative effect on my life. My poor networking abilities and lack of social skills have also had a large impact on my ability to succeed in the world. It could be argued that this is sufficient to classify me as ‘disabled’. However, I believe that the abilities that I have because I’m autistic more than compensate for this.
I wouldn’t have the same mind if I wasn’t autistic. My intellect is the one thing I have that makes life worth living. I have the ability to absorb information in such a way that I can very quickly become an ‘expert’. I can analyze a series of facts and effortlessly come to a logical conclusion. I can cut through bullshit like a knife through butter. They say that autistic people have problems understanding other people’s motives, but for me, they are all too clear.
To me, my beautiful mind is more important than money and status.
I can only speak for myself and I know that there are autistic people who consider themselves to be disabled. Everyone is different and everyone’s experience of autism is different. Some of us experience more difficulties than others on a day to day level, our symptoms, experiences and characteristics can vary wildly. It is therefore of no surprise that we may choose to define ourselves differently. It is something which is entirely up to the individual concerned and I would never presume to tell others how to describe themselves.
I’m sure that there are some people who would consider me to be disabled – perhaps those who value a well-paid job, 2.4 children, respectability, marriage, a two week holiday in the sun and a nice car more than the a razor sharp mind and a thirst for knowledge. It’s true that, on paper, I might not have had a ‘perfect life’, but I’ve got something that they’ll never have.